Design-Led Labs Creating Impactful Solutions

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Due to the decreased cost of infrastructure, open sourced information, and scale enabled by globalization, our economy has undergone a major structural shift towards innovation and entrepreneurship. Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 DMI Design Leadership Conference, co-chaired by Essential's Scott Stropkay, which was centered around lab cultures that drive innovation and the importance of design as a catalyst for insightful solutions. Established and emerging thought leaders from the government, start-ups, university labs, large corporations and the arts, gathered to share and discuss how labs of all kinds deliver solutions for both entrepreneurs and large corporations in the public and private sectors.

Through the democratization of prototyping tools like 3D printers, online educational resources such as Lynda.com, and access to physical maker shops like TechShop, the barriers to creating and prototyping are being torn down. Ideas are tested and tweaked and can then grow into businesses through startup accelerators such as MassChallenge. Entrepreneurs gain visibility and funding to take their product to market through online communities like Crowdfunding and Kickstarter. Individuals today have better access to problem solving tools and can transform ideas to businesses more quickly because of their ability to take risks, fail fast and learn from mistakes. An example of this comes from TJ Parker, Founder and CEO of PillPack, who, inspired by the broken in-store pharmaceutical service experience, designed a business that solved in-store service inefficiencies. Another example of an entrepreneur taking advantage of tools available to pursue a passion for product development and design, is David Laituri, who has founded three different companies- Vers, Onehundred, and Forg. 

Pre-established organizations today, large and small, are faced with the challenge of meeting the ever-changing needs of users. In order to accomplish this challenge, there has been a trend across industries of organizations using labs or start-up incubators to promote multi-disciplinary collaboration that combines technology and design to innovate and create excellent user experiences. Abby Wilson, Director of the LAB @ OPM, shed light into the Government's innovation lab, where a human-centered design approach is taken to tackle the federal agency’s large scale problems. Lou Lenzi, the Director of Industrial Design Operations at GE, gave a private sector perspective on GE Appliances’ partnership with Local Motors to launch First Build, a co-creation space fostering innovation in the field of home appliances. 

Throughout the conference, it was evident that the way entrepreneurs and organizations view innovation has fundamentally changed. Akhil Nigam, Founder and President of the largest startup accelerator in the world, MassChallenge, described this change as “letting lots of ideas take place, rapid iterations, filtering the best ideas and then matching them with resources--both internal and external.” For this reason, the importance of nurturing the idea generating process and fostering creativity has become increasingly important whether the approach is top-down, bottom-up, or neutral.

People everywhere are using the design thinking process in labs to create tangible solutions, but to what end? This question was answered repeatedly throughout the conference. The idea generating lab culture present today means that there will be more people in the world like David Sengeh designing comfortable prosthetic sockets and wearable interfaces for amputees, or Dr. Tenley Albright using systems thinking to address large-scale health issues, or Dr. Robin Murphy designing rescue robots for disaster relief. Everywhere you look, from healthcare, to education, to hospitality, inefficiencies and inequities are waiting to be addressed. Using labs and design thinking processes, we can now come up with sound and sustainable solutions that not only drive business but also solve global humanitarian issues.

Now the question that remains is : How can you or your organization join and leverage this co-creation/lab culture movement to create impactful solutions?